Amid an offensive freefall, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar received a day off on Thursday, as manager Ned Yost afforded him a chance to rest his legs. The more curious dilemma for Kansas City is where Escobar, the team’s leadoff hitter for the entirety of the season, should bat in their playoff lineup.
With Alex Gordon returning to the lineup, the team has the opportunity to install a hitter with a .396 on-base percentage in his first 79 games to the top of their batting order. Escobar, meanwhile, has a .300 on-base percentage, and hits for far less power than Gordon does.
Yost dislikes altering his lineup. When asked before Thursday’s game about dropping Escobar in the batting order, Yost chose to look at the bigger picture.
“We’ve been pretty successful with the way we’ve been doing it,” he said.
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Then Yost paused for eight seconds, pondering an alignment with Gordon and his No. 2 hitter, Ben Zobrist, at the top of the order. Zobrist entered Thursday’s game with a .373 on-base percentage this season.
“You’ve got your two highest on-base percentage guys,” Yost said. “But we’ve got a long way to go before we get there.”
Yost indicated the team would not consider a change until Gordon shows he has returned to full strength following his severe groin strain from July. Gordon has yet to run at 100-percent exertion, and he looked tentative at times in the field during his return on Tuesday.
Gordon also sat out on Wednesday. The Royals face a slew of left-handed pitchers in the next week or so. After that period of time passes, Gordon will begin to play in back-to-back games again.
“He’s still working his way back to full speed,” Yost said. “It’s not his hitting. It’s his running.”
But if healthy, Gordon represents a sizable upgrade over Escobar in the leadoff spot, especially given Escobar’s recent offensive deterioration. Since the All-Star break, Escobar has hit .210 with only a .496 on-base plus slugging percentage.
“His bat is dropping a little bit,” Yost said. “He’s hitting a lot of flyballs. When he’s really good, he’s hitting a lot of line drives and hard groundballs to right field.”